The day Wally signed for me

John McFarlane [Senior] 20/11/2017 21comments  |  Jump to last

As a 10-year-old boy in the Everton district of Liverpool, I could be found legs deliberately bowed, hands clutching the cuffs of my jersey, and yelling, "I'm Nobby Fielding", the name given to my footballing hero, Wally Fielding of Everton Football Club.

Times were hard in the immediate post-war years, and the sole enjoyment for thousands of young boys, and the one that lifted their spirits, was a game of football, or as we knew it "togger", whether it was played in the streets or on a bomb site, which was referred to as the "oller". And as long as there was enough light, be it moonlight or the scant light thrown out by the gas-lit street lamps, for every Nobby Fielding, there would be a Billy Liddell.

I imagine that these matches would be staged all over Liverpool, with different heroes being impersonated by the youngsters. "Nobby" would be replaced by "Eggo", Tommy Eglington in the Everton team, while Jackie Balmer would replace Billy Liddell in the Liverpool side.


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Jackie will be best remembered for scoring 10 goals in three successive games for Liverpool, two hat-tricks and a 4-goal haul, earning the accolade of a hat-trick of hat-tricks. Looking back, I have a degree of sympathy for Jackie because if any boy was deemed to have put the ball over an imaginary cross bar, the cry would go up "Jackie Balmer!"

To go back to Wally Fielding, or Alfred Walter Fielding to give him his correct title, he was born on 26 November 1919 in Edmonton, London, and started his football career as an amateur with Charlton Athletic. But before he could make any impression at the Valley, war broke out preventing him from becoming a professional.

I don't have records of his army service, but while in Bari, Italy, he was spotted by Jack Sharp Jr, a Major in the Royal Ordnance Corps, who recommended him to Theo Kelly, secretary/manager of Everton. Sharp was later a Director and subsequently Chairman of Everton Football Club.

Theo Kelly signed Wally but, in doing so, sparked off a battle with Charlton Athletic, who claimed that Everton had poached their player. The dispute was settled in favour of Everton and it was the start of a 13-year association. When asked what the highlight of his career was, Wally is quoted as saying, "The day I signed for Everton."

I for one am delighted that he did. My big regret is that I was doing army service in Cyprus when he played his last game, and what an unfortunate way to say goodbye – a 10-4 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on 11 October 1958; a sad day in more ways than one.

Losing the services of Wally was tempered by the fact that his replacement, Bobby Collins, was a 5'-2" giant, another player who gave his all for the cause of the club. I appreciate that we tend to look back through rose-tinted glasses, but what price players of that calibre now?

I've jumped the gun a bit there. Let's go back to the 1940s/50s. Wally had joined a team that, seven years after winning the League Championship, was struggling, and despite this, his talent was sufficient to earn him a place in a benefit game in aid of the "Bolton Disaster Fund", organised to assist the victims of crushing during the 2nd Round FA Cup game between Bolton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion on 9 March 1946, which resulted in the deaths of 33 people.

There appears to be a discrepancy regarding the team that Wally represented, as one source states that it was an International XI, while another lists it as an England XI versus a Scotland XI. I'm inclined to believe that it was the latter, because that's what I was told when I was a young boy.

Wally was later sent off in a game against Preston North End and said that the manager, Cliff Britton, had remarked, "You may never play for England again". "He was right " said Wally, "It was a major disappointment."

I was told as a young boy that, if a player was sent off in a League or Cup game, then that was the end of his International career. If that was true, then Wally's fate was sealed.

There was the disappointment of relegation to the Second Division in 1951 and the heartbreak of the defeat in the semi-final of the FA Cup in 1953, losing 4-3 to Bolton Wanderers, despite trailing 4-0 at half-time. And full back Tommy Clinton missing a penalty.

All that was forgotten 12 months later, when Everton gained promotion back to the First Division. Wally was never a prolific goalscorer but he was a provider for his fellow forwards, in particular, John Willie Parker and Dave Hickson, who scored 31 and 26 goals respectively in that memorable season, Wally contributing to the promotion push with 4 goals. When Wally scored against West Bromwich Albion on 27 September 1958, he became Everton's oldest goalscorer at the age of 38 years and 305 days.

Wally played his first game for Everton on 21 August 1946 in a 2 -0 defeat to Brentford, who were a First Division outfit in those days, and bowed out in that 10-4 defeat at White Hart Lane on 11 October 1958. His Everton record reads: League appearances, 380 and his goals tally 49. In the FA Cup, 30 appearances and 5 goals, giving a total of 410 appearances and 54 goals.

On leaving Everton, Wally joined Southport where he scored 1 goal in 20 games. Wally passed away on 18 January 2008, aged 88.

I should like to return now to the early 50s and, like a lot of boys my age, I collected autographs. At the time, Wally and Tommy Eglington would, for whatever reason, refuse to sign autographs; they always hurried away immediately after games.

The players' entrance in those days was a tiny door opposite the Winslow public house; one Saturday after a game, there was the usual gathering of small boys thrusting their books towards the players as they emerged and the usual response from Wally and Tommy. But to my surprise, Wally whispered: "Come around the corner, son," and he actually signed my book.

I treasured that book and took it virtually everywhere I went. The school I attended was All Saints Roman Catholic school in Anfield and our near neighbours were Anfield Road Church of England School. Theirs was a much bigger school than ours and it had its own swimming pool. We, however, had to go to Westminster Road public swimming baths. It was there that someone went through the cubicles stealing anything that took their eye and, unfortunately, that included my autograph book.

Fast forward now to the turn-of-the-century to an Everton Hall of Fame evening in the Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, and there, some 60 years after losing that autograph book, not only did my boyhood hero replace that signature, he, along with Jimmy Harris, posed for a photograph with me in between the two. A proud moment for me. That photograph, along with the signed copy of the Hall of Fame book, occupies pride of place in my home.

I trust that you have enjoyed my trip back in time, and I hope you're not too critical of my efforts... I'm just an old man reliving his boyhood.

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Reader Comments (21)

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Dennis Stevens
1 Posted 20/11/2017 at 20:22:12
Marvellous stuff, John. I wonder if your original autograph collection ever made it onto eBay!
Tony Abrahams
2 Posted 20/11/2017 at 20:40:10
Really good story John, I enjoyed reading it mate. Those hall of fame nights were really something else in the beginning, but I am genuinely fed up with clinging to the past when it comes to my club now.

Don't take that the wrong way, John, because we are nothing without our memories, and yours seems to be keeping you young!

Sue Brown
3 Posted 20/11/2017 at 20:49:53
Great story, John.

The first time I remember hearing the name Wally Fielding, I was five or six years old and we'd moved house in Ormskirk to a nice quiet cul-de-sac.

Dad (a lifelong blue) proudly told everyone that Wally had lived in the house right across the road, having moved out only a couple of months before we'd moved in...

Kept him happy for ages that, and me and my sister learned all about the great man.

John McFarlane [Snr]
4 Posted 20/11/2017 at 21:02:12
Hi Dennis, [1] Thanks for your comments, I honestly can't remember any individual player that signed for me, but when you think of some of the players of that era such as Wilf Mannion, Len Shackleton, Johnny Carey, Jackie Milburn, Billy Steel etc. There has to be one or two notable names.

The only thing I'm sure of is that Stanley Matthews wouldn't have appeared in my book, I would have certainly remembered that.

John McFarlane [Snr]
5 Posted 20/11/2017 at 21:17:39
Hi Tony [2] I take your point entirely, but knowing your Dad's age, I can only guess at yours, but I really hope that you may have such memories in your 80th year. Without wanting to seem like a defeatist, I feel now, that the past is all have to look forward to.

Hi Sue, [3] I trust that my contribution has brought some happy memories of your childhood, and some pleasant days with your Dad.

Steve Ferns
6 Posted 20/11/2017 at 21:39:49
Awesome, John, I'm glad you found the time to come up with that. I hope to read many more.
Brent Stephens
7 Posted 20/11/2017 at 21:47:14
Yes, John. Enjoyed that. Pity about the autograph book (I sold it in the end!). Wee Bobby Collins – one of my favourites. Nuggety.
Andy Crooks
8 Posted 20/11/2017 at 22:01:35
Lovely stuff, John, I enjoyed that very much.

I never got many autographs, in fact my autograph book had only one signature in it when I lost it to Alan Ball at Windsor Park. As the England bus eased through the crowd, I passed my book to Alan, through a small window at the top of the main window. The bus moved on and Bally shut the window, departing with my book.

So at one stage, at the peak of his powers, Alan Ball had Alan Mullery's autograph.... Bet he cherished it.

Rick Tarleton
9 Posted 21/11/2017 at 06:44:24
Every team had an inside forward who basically stood in the centre circle and sprayed passes. I remember Fielding well, he was good, a true midfield general. Long sleeves covering his hands, the job of Farrell and Lello was to get the ball to Fielding and he fed Eglington, McNamara, Hickson and Parker. It was simple but effective and basically a universal style. Logie at Arsenal, Harmer at Spurs, Broadbent at the mighty Wolves, Haynes at Fulham (the first £100 a week footballer) they all did the same.

I'd like to endorse what John said in his article about Bobby Collins, in my sixty odd years of following Everton, no signing has ever had a bigger impact than that wee man. He dragged Everton from mediocrities to championship challengers until Catterick in his unique way got rid of him far too soon. Catterick did the same with Vernon, Gabriel and above all Alan Ball.

Thanks for the memories of that time, John.

Brent Stephens
10 Posted 21/11/2017 at 09:03:38
Andy (#8) – cracker!
Dave Abrahams
11 Posted 21/11/2017 at 13:02:39
Lovely story, John, giving you you long happy memories.,

Bobby Collins one of my favourite players for the Blues. I saw him at the Forum picture house (cinema) in town one night. The cinema was letting out, he caught me staring at him, he glared at me as if to say "Who the fuck are you looking at?" I was going to explain that I was an Everton fan and I knew who he was, but just left it alone,

It proved to me that Bobby had no ego, wasn't a big-time Charlie, but to me he was a massive talented footballer who was transferred too soon... although his replacement helped us to win the Championship.

Happy days... where have the happy days gone Bill!!!'

Gerard McKean
12 Posted 21/11/2017 at 16:14:35
Thanks, John, your recollections and some of the comments that followed evoked many memories for me.

We were spoilt in the 1960s with so many fine players gracing the Royal Blue Jersey. Was it Catterick's flaw that he often sold great players too soon? It was often said that he broke up teams that had won something because he wanted to keep the hunger for more. I always thought that was rubbish; for me the likes of Collins, Vernon and Ball eclipsed Catterick as characters and as men and went beyond his ability to control them. It was a pity that Tony Kay was not allowed to stay long enough for Catterick to try to get rid of him as I think Kay would have sparked him!

I agree with Dave A about the early Hall of Fame nights at the Adelphi; the Nurnberg rallies were quieter! I remember the first one when the announcer greeted each Hall of Famer onto the stage with a handshake that he artfully turned into an embrace, whether the player liked it or not, for a photo opportunity.

Seeing this as he waited his turn, Ray Wilson was far too quick for any false embrace and was gone before the announcer knew what had happened. Many right wingers would have known that feeling after coming up against the Great Ramon!

Mick Summers
13 Posted 22/11/2017 at 02:17:27
Talking about memories, John, you have invoked mine reference the Everton Travel Club of Skelmersdale from the 70s in which you played a prominent role (hope I have the right John Mac Snr here).

I was the guy from Hall Green who used to drink with your nephew, John Mac Jnr, at all the away games but joined the forces in the late seventies and lost touch. I have since been reunited with your nephew and will be giving him a lift to the West Ham game.

He tells me stalwarts from that era, like John Twist, have passed away but the likes of John Brough Snr and Jnr, Keith Speakman and Tommy Garner are still with us.

They were great formative years for me, especially the drinking aspect. I never realised your origins, I assumed you were a born and bred Skemer but it was interesting to read.

My only regret was not being born 10 years earlier so I could have witnessed the 1960s teams. I still go home and away 47 years on but I do not enjoy it like I used to; it feels more like a duty than pleasure. Perhaps 30 years of not being able to compete for the title has taken its toll.

John McFarlane [Snr]
14 Posted 22/11/2017 at 11:57:47
Hi Mick, [13] yes you have got he right John Mac, it's nice to reconnect after all these years. John Twist passed away in London on August 5th 2013 aged 63.

I remember you well, you used to collect programmes, John and I often said "We owe young Mick Summers an apology" he was referring to one occasion when we were standing outside the programme shop, and you said, what we thought was "I'm going in to see if I can get some 'Bacca Shoes'. We took the mickey out of you, until you managed to explain that what you were looking for, were 'Back Issues'. Belated apologies Mick and I'm sure John would join me in expressing that sentiment.

You are right in thinking that I played a prominent role in the Skelmersdale Travel Club, it was actually my brainchild, and you'll no doubt remember that we paid £1-00p a week in the close season and £1-50p a week during the season. £1-50p return to travel all over the country, not bad eh?

On the last week of the 1975/76 season, [because we paid our subs on the coach,] we actually saw games at Old Trafford, [Manchester United] Goodison [Middlesbrough], and the Baseball Ground [Derby County.] With a fee drink in a pub in Derby, the best £1-50p I ever spent.

I don't see much of our john and the last time I saw Keith Speakman and young John Brough, was at what used to be called the 'Knowl Brow' [John Twists watering hole,] now an eating place called the Coach House. Johns' young lady sent a few bob up from London so we could send him off in style.We spread his ashes outside Goodison, and I think of him every time I go to the match.

You may also recall that if we travelled to the North East, we always called in to a little pub in the village of Elland just outside of Leeds, to spend the evening. I can't remember the name of the pub, but because our John, and young Broughie were only sixteen, I had to keep an eye on them.

If we went to London and other southern venues, our stopping off point was a little pub in Wolverhampton, I think that was called the Pear Tree, many a pleasant evening there, playing pool and trying to stay sober, Our John will probably remember the names of the pubs.

'Happy Days'

John Lewis
15 Posted 22/11/2017 at 12:29:57
Thanks, John, for your memories. Nobby was my favourite Everton player and still is. My password for this site is his name! He used to go past defenders as though they were standing still, so much so he was frequently hacked down!

I still can't stop supporting our club and players even though the game has changed so completely. My only claim to footballing fame was being invited by Stanley Mathews to join him and his son for coffee at a tennis tournament in the early 50s. His son never really made it in the tennis world anymore than I did!

Stanley was such a modest and wonderful guy. He talked about how fortunate he was to own a house and a Humber Super Snipe car from football!

Your memories have given me great pleasure.

John McFarlane [Snr]
16 Posted 22/11/2017 at 12:37:55
Hi again Mick [13] I meant to say that the three games were,

Manchester United, Saturday April 17th, [away] when we paid our subs,

Middlesbrough Monday April 19th, [home]

Derby County Wednesday April 21st. [away]

Throw in the free pint, value for your £1.50p I would suggest. Cheers!

Mick Summers
17 Posted 22/11/2017 at 12:39:47
Hi John,

Yes, 30 bob a week was a bargain to watch Everton all over the country. I used to help John Twist on his milk round and he in turn paid the 30 bob subs.

I remember the last week of the 75-76 season well: Andy King made his debut in the Derby County game and scored twice in a 3-1 win. I wish we had his like in midfield now.

Reference the watering holes we adopted over the country, I remember the ones you mentioned and I think there was a pub in Northampton we used after London games also, although I cannot remember the name. Now you mention my "bacca shoes" – that too strikes a chord. My local Upholland accent, I'm afraid.

One journey that always sticks in my mind was not Everton-related but when we went to the Wolves v Liverpool game at the end of the 75-76 season to support Wolves in their attempt to prevent Liverpool from winning the league, such was our burning desire to see them fail. I got in for nothing on the night as the Liverpool fans smashed open the gates and everybody flooded in, wiping out the programme sellers in the process. The night ended in disappointment but, as you said, Happy Days!!

John McFarlane [Snr]
18 Posted 22/11/2017 at 12:55:12
Hi Mick, you must have gone to the Wolves game with John.

The Northampton stopover as I recall, used to have a disco. By the way, John died in 2015, I must have had a senior moment, it happens sometimes when you reach 79.

Mike Allen
19 Posted 24/11/2017 at 14:28:17

I can relate to all you've said started watching when 9d in Boys Pen or 1s/3d for under-14s to get into the ground. Nothing like it when we got back in Division 1, ground heaving every week. Every team had at least one great player/folk hero.

I played my football in the Zingari on Saturdays and Liverpool Premier on Sundays in the late 50s early 60s. I have convinced myself over the past few years that I have played with better players than many of the so-called stars of today. Great piece!

Keith Young
20 Posted 27/11/2017 at 21:29:15
I have recently noticed the surprising number of “Oldies” sharing their memories with TW readers. I guess it's because everything looks really bad now. I have resisted adding my thoughts because we are relying too much on history to see us through.

However, John McFarlane Snr triggered a memory. I lived in a gas lit condemned house just near Our Lady's Immaculate RC Church. I was 15 still at Old Swan Tech but doing Saturday work with a builder installing tiled fireplaces. So what you might say?

Well we had the radio on 4-0 half time 😱 then the dream began 4-1...4-2 .4-3. I had to wait until 1966 for a great comeback. Thanks John ps I'm in my 80th year

I believe we will have the greatest comeback this Season

Dennis Stevens
21 Posted 27/11/2017 at 21:33:31
I hope you're right Keith – we surely need one!

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